Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 12 July 2008 / 9 Tammuz 5768

The Kuzari Principle

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Sandra in Cape Town, South Africa

Dear Rabbi,

Would you please elaborate on what I’ve heard referred to as “The Kuzari Principle” insofar as it purports to be an historical proof for the Jewish belief in G-d, and how is this proof any more valid for Judaism than for the other monotheistic religions of Christianity or Islam?

Dear Sandra,

This is quite an undertaking to take on in this limited forum, but I’ll attempt to outline the idea as follows:

The Jewish claim to truth is based on the idea that G-d revealed Himself to the entire people at Sinai which was an experience so great and so intense and so unanimously experienced by all that it could not have been made up. This imparted in the Jewish people an unswerving commitment to the belief in G-d. Subsequently they may have lapsed into rebelling against His will, but their acceptance of G-d’s existence was not questioned.

Compare this to other religions’ claim to truth based on the spiritual experiences or insights of one person, or of just a small group of people. This experience cannot be corroborated in any way by others. Of course, the experience may have happened. But the difference is that translating the experience of the individual to a national “belief” is based solely on faith in that individual and accepting his claims despite having no other verification.

Given the advantage of the Jewish claim to truth, namely it being based on the simultaneous experience of an entire people, why don’t we find this idea used by any other people in the history of mankind as a basis for their belief?

The answer is that as powerful as a claim as it is if it’s true, it’s conversely as weak if it’s false. Specifically, if someone intended to dupe an entire people into believing something based on the claim that they all experienced it when in reality they hadn’t, no one would accept the claim, simply because they know they didn’t experience what was claimed. This is certainly so if this new belief system was limiting and restrictive.

Lest you think that the lie could have been implemented later, that’s equally implausible. If an individual tried to convince an entire people to accept the new belief based on the claim that their ancestors had such a national revelation, people would counter, “If our ancestors had such an experience, why are you the only one who knows about it? Surely some of us would have heard something about this revelation that you claim all of our ancestors had!”

Therefore, only if such a national revelation actually happened would either the current or even a future generation accept such a claim. And if it didn’t happen, neither the current nor even a future generation would accept it.

Now, Christianity and Islam, for example, consciously drew richly from Judaism as an example for their newly forming religions. And they accept the Torah’s claim of national revelation of G-d to Israel at Sinai. The question is why didn’t they follow the Jewish example regarding this claim to truth, namely that G-d revealed His “mind-change” to the entire people, heard thunderously by all to the accompaniment of lighting and shofar blasts? The answer is simply because of their recognition that if the claim was accepted by the Jews, it must have basis, as explained above. Conversely, they realized that such a claim could never be accepted in their regard because it just didn’t happen. The claim to truth regarding these religions, then, can be based solely on the faith in the claims of individuals. That doesn’t mean these claims can’t be true. It just means they can’t be verified and are therefore only faith as opposed to belief.

Interestingly, both other major western religions accept that G-d revealed His will to the Jews and mankind in the presence of an entire people, but claim He revealed His “change of mind” only to an individual. Now if everyone agrees that G-d deemed it necessary to implement His will through national revelation, how likely is it that He would revoke it through a revelation to one person?

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